Doing the early shift

Much like most people, I have a certain number of hours in a day and an increasingly large number of demands on those hours. Spending time working, developing my skills is challenging enough, add friends and family time on top of that and it becomes difficult not to make compromises. It’s almost as if I need to find a few extra hours a day.

Last week and going forward I am experimenting with shifting my working hours. My wife leaves for work to start at 6am and sometimes 5am. I decided to start working similar hours for my work, taking a lift to/from work with her. Gaining me now only the time that would have been spent walking, but a couple of extra hours in the morning, too. This has proved to be easier than I thought, though not without its problems.

I end up working on a different time-zone to my colleagues (which I call “TST – Toby Standard Time”), and my body clock is out of kilter with the rest of the world. This basically means I eat lunch while everyone else is working and I leave earlier. But it also means I’m closer to the preceding American day (Pacific).

In reality, this has worked out better than I thought. It really does give me extra time in a day. Now I can both find and allocate time for social media activities and also spend time with family.

It gives me 45 minutes or so in the morning to get up to date with the latest from America and the early news for the UK. I can catch up on blogs, Facebook and Twitter for all our social media outlets and use Hootsuite to schedule tweets throughout the day. I can then switch to “real” work without having the same level of distraction. I can keep on top of latest news by adding Chrome Extensions for news services to my Chrome browser.

I then get a good stretch of 3 hours or so peace and quiet on my own, in a dark room. And there is no better environment for me to make serious inroads to projects. By the time my colleagues get in, I’m ready for a break anyway and can have a chat with them about the day’s work and plans.

Obviously, I get hungry for lunch earlier, which is not a problem. Also, while my finishing time is brought forward to 2.30pm, I wouldn’t necessarily leave at this time. I think it’s important for me to be accessible to others as much as possible if this time shift is to work. If I have had a particularly intensive day, I can choose to “work through”, or step down a gear and find some lower-intensity task to while away the time, without abandoning the office prematurely. I’ll typically add an extra 1-2 hours to every day – but at very little cost.

Overall, it’s worked out really well. I don’t have my 50 minute walks to/from work anymore (which I do miss, as it now means I have to find time to listen to podcasts) and I get tired earlier meaning I have to crack open the Diet Coke at 7am. But, I can get home, wind down on the XBox, have tea earlier (with associated cleaning up) and chill my head out so I can actually get to sleep.

Obviously, this sort of day is subject to whether your employer is keen. Luckily, I have a very understanding employer. So long as I am available for meetings as required, am accessible and the work gets done – that’s all that matters, right?

LoveFilm …. A most humble request

I’m a subscriber to LoveFilm, having originally been part of the DVD rental by post service. Whereas I’d previously have bought the films I want to watch, I now have them sent to me. It is cheap, super convenient and I have rarely had issues … and when I have, LoveFilm has been quick to sort.

A lot of my friends are also subscribers, and it is not uncommon for us to make recommendations to each other about which films to watch, knowing that it will cost no more to add a film onto an already burgeoning list of films.

That’s where my problem occurs.

LoveFilm has an extensive catalogue of films, with detailed data and reviews behind each title. Coupled with the user-submitted rankings and reviews, this offers a very useful data source for identifying what films are worth my time. With my friends’ contributions, I have a list which averages about 30 titles at any given time. The downside of LoveFilm is that although you can have prioritisation of titles, it can often be months later when a DVD finally makes it to your door.  Often, this will be met by “WTF?”, as I express surprise as to why I should have rented that title.

The reason is probably a friend’s suggestion or a more geeky reason such as extending my exposure to a particular actor or director’s work. Either way, I have no-one to turn to and express my sincere regret as to their choice of film (and worse, their recommendation that I would like similar content) nor am I able to pat myself on my back for being a complete geek and extending my own breadth of celluloid pretentiousness.

Solving this is easy … really.

For each title I rent, let me add a comment. This comment can be added at the time of rental, after rental or while I’m waiting. It’s just a text-field. I’ve asked LoveFilm for this many times, via Twitter, email and I’ve even called them. For some reason, their priorities don’t align with mine.

I can then click on that note (which may indicate a comment already in place), and I can enter a bit of text saying something like “John recommended this because he knows I like things big and blue”. Then, when I receive the disk (likely to be months later), I won’t be inclined to send it back or will be able to understand why I considered it. You could even insert a little note to me in my little envelopes – no scratch that.

Implementing this would be a quick win and many of my fellow subscribers think this is a good idea. An hour to add to the database and business layer, maybe a couple of hours on the user-interface (maybe something AJAX-y like the rest of the interface?) and a couple of hours in testing. You have a day, tops, for an easy #win.

Yes, I could keep my own records. I could even talk to your API, maybe even serve that purpose for others. (I am already planning a Windows Phone 7 UI) But why should I need to worry about security of data, implementation, data protection legislation,  continuity of service, etc. in the first instance?

… and when you’ve done that

Perhaps you could consider equalising the playing field for the UK audience? The US has Hulu, Zune and Netflix, all coming into their computers. For me, I use Windows Media Centre and XBox 360 a lot – not for playing games – but for watching TV, playing music, etc. OK, Zune has finally made it to XBox in the UK, but 1 HD film is equivalent to a months subscription to LoveFilm which gives me 5 films! But at least I have the choice. I also sold my soul to Murdoch and have Sky Player on my Xbox 360. Both Zune and Sky work awesomely well.

Netflix gives US users the ability to order and watch films from the PC or – more importantly – the XBox 360. I applaud your efforts to bring watchable films over the internet, but I’m a snob and I can’t see me enjoying watching a film, in a web browser, with questionable bandwidth, slumped over my PC. Nah, much rather watch it 11-foot away, use my remote control, my existing HD hardware and my broadband using my XBox 360. You have the catalogue, you clearly have the programming talent, so is it not possible to “make it so”?

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